If you are a lawyer headed to federal court in one of the three federal districts in North Carolina, can you take a laptop computer into the courthouse? What about a cellphone, either with or without a camera?
The answers are different in the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts. That’s also true throughout the country, because the Administrative Office of the Courts has left the decision about how to handle these devices to the discretion of each Court.
The Middle District
The Middle District of North Carolina is the most restrictive of North Carolina’s three districts. That Court last year implemented a strict policy banning laptops entirely without advance court approval. That policy has now been relaxed, and you can apply for a Laptop Authorization Card to bring a laptop to Court.
But you can forget about a camera with a cellphone in the Middle District The Court’s website says that "[p]hotographic, recording or transmitting devices are prohibited in all courthouses. Prohibited devices include, but are not limited to . . . wireless microphones, recorders, cameras, 2-way radios, push to talk cellphones and cellphones with cameras."
Cellphone without a camera? That’s fine in the Middle District.
The Eastern District
In the Eastern District, there is a Standing Order dated August 15, 2005 titled In re Prohibition of Wireless Communication Devices In Courtroom Facilities. The Order covers laptops, cellphones, and cellphones with cameras, and says they can’t be brought into the courthouses.
But the Order exempts "attorneys on court business provided that their possession and use of wireless communication devices in courtroom facilities is relating to their official duties." The exemption allows attorneys to bring cellphones with cameras into the courthouses in the Eastern District.
But even though you might think that laptops fall within the exemption, they don’t. If you want to bring a laptop into an Eastern District court, you need to contact the Case Manager for the Judge you are appearing before and ask for advance permission. If permission is granted, the Court Security Officers will be informed and will you’ll be able to get the computer through security.
The Western District
The Western District is the most technology friendly district in North Carolina. Lawyers headed for the courthouses in Charlotte and Asheville can bring in both laptops and cellphones with cameras.
The Standing Order there applies to "lap top computers, cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants or other electronic devices." It says that members of the bar can bring such devices into the courthouses so long as they are screened by the Marshals and turned off while the court is in session. The permitted devices include cameras with cellphones.
Not only that, but there is wireless internet access in the attorney conference rooms in the Western District.
Thanks very much to John Brubaker, Dennis Iavarone, and Frank Johns, the Clerks in the Middle, Eastern, and Western Districts, who were very helpful in answering questions about these policies.